ConnectiCon 2015: The Panels

View-changing analyses and pop culture-punctuated histories!

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One of the best things about ConnectiCon is its multi-fandom nature and how that affects guest choice and panel content. Sci-fi, animation, gaming, comics, and just about anything you could think of is represented if not by the panel programming then by the costumes of the fans themselves. (Either last year or the year before, I happened to stumble into and stay for a panel on sled dog rearing!) This year, I stuck closer to home (anime, games) but still went to a couple unique panels. After the break, you’ll find gender, visual, audio, cultural, and over analyses; machines that will rule us all and help us all; and the only Q&A session with George Takei!

From the Big Bang Theory to Supernatural: Gender Roles and Stereotypes in Popular Media

After revealing their intention to focus on four main shows (for reasons left unexplained), panelists Emma Dulz and Samuel Rose started off with a definition of cultural gender roles, emphasizing a Western perspective, and bulleted list of sex-specific stereotypes. In sequence, Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, Doctor Who (recent iteration, Matt Smith-heavy), and Hunger Games were examined in terms of character analysis after a short premise summary. After each show, the panelists opened up the floor for questions and comments, and the audience had a tendency to trump the panelists in terms of insight. The panel seemed more conjecture than seriously thought out, but there were interesting tidbits here and there. My favorite observation was how older incarnations of The Doctor were more mature and science oriented, while each new regeneration has a younger body, more stereotypical male traits, and juvenile behavior. (At least up through Matt Smith.) “What I liked most was the end” is often a cruel joke about incompetence, but I mean it literally. The panelists tied together disparate examples of pop media into a single question of “Why is this so important” and ended on the Always-produced “like a girl” commercial. It was a powerful visual punch, and every bit as pop culture as the movies and TV series they showcased.

From Hal to Cortana: A Brief History of AI in Literature, Movies, and Video Games

Invoking the name HAL and experiencing technical difficulties is just a little too perfect. That the presenter became flustered and resorted to using his phone to Wiki his notes was definitely not so. Still, once a groove was found, a groove was kept. He ran through the benchmarks of the AI development timeline, from its very beginnings and in great detail, punctuated with releases of AI-focused media. The history was extensive and extremely interesting, but references to the books, movies, and TV series he mentioned felt lacking; they rarely exemplified a point or demonstrated a cause and effect relationship with reality, which was a shame given the panel’s title but not a deal breaker. The presenter did, after all, spend some time picking apart media examples for how they depicted/defined AI. 

Reading Too Much Into the Slayers

After chowing down a Devil Dog a la Lina Inverse, presenter Jed Blue launched into a presentation conceived as part of a series of dartboard analyses — applying random analyses to random/favorite anime titles to see what sticks. The anime of focus for this panel was Slayers, and the analysis was more character-based with some thematic exploration thrown in for good measure. The panel started strong enough. Jed likened characters to RPG character types or RPG player types with goodly balance of humor and evidence-based comparison. Next, Jed tackled the various seasons while showing what felt like a ton of examples without any association with a larger theme or theory. After 50 minutes of what seemed like quasi-aimless nostalgia wading, a theme appeared: Slayers as carnivalization. This was the meat of the panel. Instead of this association being the last 10 minutes, I would like to have seen this presented as the main theory flushed out with bulleted examples and clips. I really enjoyed how Jed applied this tack and now want to rewatch Slayers with his theory in mind to enjoy the show on a whole other level.

Everybody Complains About Being A Freelancer, Why Do We Do It?

Honestly, I dropped in on this panel because it sounded like it was going to be a bitch session. And freelancing as much as I do, I was totally down for that. I hadn’t read the guidebook description, but it’s comforting to know that the woes of freelancers cross genre and medium borders. And while the two freelancers who’ve worked and continue to work in the gaming business certainly had cautionary tales to tell, they more often than not stressed exactly what the panel promised: their reasons for continuing along the road all too often devoid of “beer and skittles.” In addition to being able to contribute to the creative pool comprising the properties they love and being able to work on such a diverse range of projects, the panelists spoke of down-to-earth matters outside the “fraction of the work” represented by actual writing and designing. Here they spoke of such horrors as taxes, time management, contracts, and (ugh) professionalism. There was also some quick advice to the audience about picking and choosing projects, working outside comfort zones, and schmoozing. With the Why's tapped out on the panelists’ ends, they turned the floor to the audience, and a good time was had by all sharing experiences that sometimes elicited further advice.

Regeneration 101 - Transgender Metaphors in Fandom

If you’re cisgender, your sense of privilege might apply the “Why do panels on topics like this feel like support group meetings?” filter while listening. The answer is, of course, because they are and have to be given the lack of representation in media. As consumers of such, we can subconsciously fall down the slide of basing our concept of normal by what is shown to us. And while LGBQ representation is growing to an almost miniscule amount, the T largely still has to hide in analogy and metaphor, making people have to decode or reinterpret media to find themselves in someone to identify with. And that has to be horribly isolating.

“I feel that if you’re trans, you can really relate to Time Lords.”

To that end, this panel was a win. What began with a personal relation of what transgender means, quickly turned into a dissection of examples from such TV series as Doctor Who, Steven Universe, and Gravity Falls as well as characters such as Captain America, examining how certain aspects could be interpreted as transgender representations. It was, to quote the panelist, “just another instance of literary analysis,” and I found the points well sold and the overall application pretty well done … if only a bit fan-gasmy at points. But, hey, we’re all fans. If you titillate us, do we not sqee?

Explaining Yuri Kuma Arashi

Presented by Natalie and Judith (accompanied by Ginko), this panel remains tied in my memory for best panel of the entire con. After briefly explaining modern day perceptions of lesbians and lesbian life in Japan, content focus shifted to stereotypes in media — specifically “Class S” (beautiful, pure, junior high and high school love) and “Psycho Predator Lesbians” (lecherous, boob-groping opportunists) depictions. From there, the presenters established Ikuhara’s goal of being able to work independently. Tying all of this together, Natalie and Judith examined visuals and themes throughout Yuri (Type S) Kuma (Psycho Predator) Arashi (societal retribution) to explain how Ikuhara was depicting the antagonistic culture in which Japanese lesbians currently live. There was adept character analysis, even covering the nameless class girls as a collective, conformist herd; the picking apart of setting and symbols in relation to various themes; as well as rationale behind some of the architectural references tied to Western media. This is a must-see panel for its excellent content as well as for how tight an essay it is!

Puella Magi Madoka Musica

Presented by Nathan McDonald, this panel also remains tied in my memory for best panel of the entire con. I lack the vocabulary and knowledge base to adequately relay an analysis of music and stand in awe of those who can. McDonald was thorough and precise in leveraging music and video clips just long enough to drive home his points about how music is fundamental to Puella Magi Madoka Magica and how changes in the scoring drive differences between the series and the first wo movies (there was not enough time in the one-hour timeslot to cover Rebellion). Content included breaking down arrangements to reveal musical representations of character as well as relationships with imagery and scene context. As any examination of sound should, McDonald also covered the precise use of silence in certain scenes. This panel, like the other best and the Superflat panel at Genericon, made me immediately want to re-watch the whole of the series and the movies to pay closer attention for an even greater appreciation of the execution.

ConnectiCon Death Match

It’s a shame the audio is cut from the above video (though there are other unofficial videos that can be found), because the roar of the crowd was the real focus of this competition where two cosplayers enter and one leaves … slightly after the other after feigning death. In a mix between cosplay chess and a masquerade, costumed contestants walked out in pairs. The host would hold his hand above the head of each cosplayer, and the crowd would scream (bloody murder) for their favorite. Those who inspired the most popped eardrums and rasped throats got to slay the other and progress to the next round. It was pretty fun to attend, and a good excuse to scream. A bit loud for an ol’ fuddy-duddy like me to endure for long, but the standing room-only crowd in Main Events went nuts for it.

Of Duelists and Drunkards™

18+ panels are a nefarious affair, but if you’re drunk enough or desperate enough, you could do worse than this Manly Battleships production featuring Mr. Panda, Snake, WaterWriter, and Mr. Panda’s sister. Conceived of as a hokey late-night variety show parody crossed with a con nightmares confessional, there were skits, tricks, and stories to laugh at and with. The latter were sometimes interactive; Mr. Panda would recount a tale and have select audience members act it out. The pacing during such sessions led to some humorous false starts and general joviality. There were also a uke ditty and some fun videos, like a cameraman running around to different Deadpool cosplayers and exclaiming, “Spiderman!” (Succession as well as the varied reactions really sold the laughs.) But most important of all was the product release of Loli-Pop, a soda which bears the slogan, “Don’t pop a loli! Pop the top off a Loli-Pop!” It’s obscene and brilliantly perverse. I’ve yet to pop mine, but I’ll be sure to recount the experience when I do.

 

Star Trek, September 11, and the Age of Perpetual War

Panels that run in the first timeslot on Sunday are rough sells, but Jed Blue had about one third of one of the larger panel rooms filled when I arrived (a couple minutes late) and ended up with almost a roomful by the end of his presentation. That this panel retained everyone who walked in would be no surprise if you saw it. The panel started off by exploring the respective influences of what Jed referred to as the four main threads — Gene Roddenberry, Desilu, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana — of the original Star Trek series. As the title of the panel would suggest, most of the observations were linked to attitudes pertaining to politics, race, and war. This tack, applied to every subsequent Star Trek series, revealed a lot in terms of progression of values as influenced by the times leading up to and of course after the events of 9/11. It was a solid panel, and one that shed light on changes in characters and values between series and even during the airing of specific series.

George Takei Q and A

With his deep, warm voice, George Takei spoke of the humility of drawing so many faces in the chairs facing him. He spoke to the recent loss of his friends and fellow beloved Star Trek actors. He spoke to his parents’ experiences in internment camps and the upcoming Broadway play about them that he hopes will raise awareness and compassion. Takei also spoke of the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and about his own struggle with activism and coming out. He spoke so much and to so many topics that there was very little time for actual Q&A, but no-one seemed to mind. The monologue seemed to take everyone aback with its pensive tone punctuated by humble humor. There were three questions asked, and Takei took his time with each. The first answer revealed an upcoming sequel to his first autobiography in which he speaks to everything he couldn’t previously, the second revealed Richard Burton as Takei’s personal acting hero (as well as a fun story about them in Alaska), and the third question, inquiring about social media pressure (to use it, to censor oneself, etc.), revealed his love for being able to reach people directly and amplify his voice. Regarding the latter, he also took the opportunity to fully explain the intentions of his blackface tweet.

Gaming and Disability: Adaptive Technology and Nerdity

First-time presenter Julia K., with a subject about which she could personally relate and was passionate, started off with a definition of adaptive technology: basically anything that helps those with disabilities do more. Examples ranged from something as simple as using Nintendo’s Super Game Boy as a screen reader and as fantastic as a mouth-manipulated pen with breath controls! She also noted the advent of 3D printing as a boom to custom controllers and accessories. Not all examples of technology were physical however. When citing tech for those with vision impairments, the presenter made the case for things as simple as subtitle font, color, placement, and vibrancy choices as well as presenting information in more than one way (patterns and colors). Regarding the hearing-impaired, Julia went over the importance of captions vs. subtitles for all the information left out of the latter. Cognitive disabilities brought up things one wouldn’t normally think of as helpful but in reality, for those with disabilities and even just new gamers, prove very much so: tutorials, archived in-game text for later reference, difficulty and speed settings, and even something as simple as the humble pause button. In this way, the panel revealed to the empathetically drowsy what is taken for granted can actually be a means of enhancing the quality of life for others. Due to technical difficulties, there were no video clips, which meant the panel ended really early despite starting a little late. Still, it was an eye-opening panel, and I think it’s one that should be run often. For the presenter’s full notes, click here.

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The End of the Trap Door

Ani-Gamers is about E*X*P*L*O*D*E

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Well, it’s come to this. This is the end of my Trap Door column. I’ve enjoyed trawling through the diamonds in the rough and the turds in the road, but the column started to grate on my workload. I was writing for two or three websites when I started TD. I now write for four different websites, and I’m attending courses for employment training. What little time there is after all that goes toward my family. To give you an idea of my general crunch, the day after I usually post a TD review, I have to start planning the next one in twenty days or less. I’ve a personal rule: once something you love doing is starting to feel like work, stop doing it; it’s not going to get better. So, I decided to can the column while I’m still in a good mood about it. This means that, from now on, any retro posts you see from me on Ani-Gamers will just be whatever tickles my fancy. But I’m proud of the stuff I’ve covered in a column that ran on such a kickass website as Ani-Gamers for over three years! I got to cover some of my favorite guilty pleasures, like Dominion Tank Police and 3X3 Eyes, and talk about some of Animeigo’s latest Kickstarter projects, like Otaku No Video and Riding Bean. So with the end in sight, I’ve decided to wrap things up and move on.

So how will I be going out? Well, it only seems fair to review the title that started it all for a lot of fans, myself included: Akira. Akira is one of those titles that everyone says you should watch if you want to understand anime’s appeal. Even if you don’t like it (and if you don’t, we can’t be friends anymore), you should still watch it. Recently, it twigged with me that Akira arrived in an English-friendly format in North America (well, according to IMdB) in 1990. With its July 16th original Japanese release month just gone, why not combine both Anniversaries? So, we’ve decided to create the Akira Yearbook. Much like how a yearbook records our feelings about how the year or your time in school went, the Akira Yearbook is going to record how we feel about Akira after a quarter of a century in our lives. From the vets who were there when it first opened in cinemas to the people who’ve just discovered it, this is your chance to talk about how the film sits in your head as a fan and consumer of Japanese animation. As well as my regular review of Akira, I’ll also be posting my feelings on the film. Why should people write about it now? Because if the film gets any older, the people who first saw it will not want to think about until the next anniversary, and it's important to keep this treasure in the public eye. So how is it going to work?

Firstly, anyone who wants to write from tomorrow (July 26) to the corresponding day in August can either email myself, Evan (our Editor-in-Chief at Ani-Gamers), or any of the staff with their reviews and written pieces if they don’t have a blog or website. If you’ve got your own site or blog or you’ve already written about something similar to do with Akira, cool. Just send us the link via email or social media and we’ll put into our holding page for the links on Ani-Gamers. If you’re not sure if you want to write for the yearbook, that’s cool. Just signal boost this post on social media (if you wouldn’t mind). You'll have our full and earnest gratitude.

Finally, to everyone who read my column and liked or disliked it, I thank you and ask only one thing: when you speak with me next, buy me a Bulmers and tell me how much you hated The Humanoid. I’m trying to build a support group. 

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The Trap Door: The Alpha and the Omega

Akira (1988)

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When I started the Trap Door column a few years ago, I wanted to shine a spotlight on forgotten titles — titles that, maybe, deserve another look. Along the way, I’ve rediscovered some gems and uncovered some manure. But in this installment, I want to celebrate a title that is evergreen, that every fan knows, and yet we seem to have forgotten how we came to see, the context in which we saw it, and our feelings about the title. As part of our Akira Yearbook project, I’ll be contributing an interpretation piece. But here, I just want to give a review (if such a thing is possible) of the massively influential, often copied, but never equalled: Akira.

Please be advised: a spoiler warning is now in effect.

Set in the year 2019, 31 years after the destruction of Tokyo in an explosion and 30-plus years after the start of World War III, our story takes place in the rebuilt "Neo-Tokyo." The city lurches along, growing and expanding like a futuristic city should. There’s the usual strife that goes with that, but as the moment, there’s a particular problem with bōsōzoku gangs: gangs of young turks causing mayhem and destruction while fighting for their turf. The Capsules are led by Shotaro Kaneda, and they rule their roost. The gang also includes Tetsuo Shima, Kaneda’s buddy and childhood friend. One night while racing through the streets, they cross swords with the Clowns in a bloody encounter. In the melee, Tetsuo is injured while swerving to avoid Takashi, an escapee from a government lab. The military turns up, recaptures Takashi, and brings Tetsuo to one of their hospitals. The whole gang gets arrested. This might have been the end of it, and everyone would have been bailed out the next day, if not for the fact that the military doctors discover that Tetsuo has latent psychic powers similar to another of their previous test subjects. This sets off a conflict that will kill hundreds of people, rewrite reality, and drive two best friends apart. It's also one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

Part of the appeal of Akira after 25 years of English-speaking fans knowing of it is that it transcends cultural barriers while concurrently encompassing Japanese concepts like karmic retribution, buddhist resurrection theory, and Shinto equilibrium with the forces of nature. There is no other film that can dump that much theory on you and still hold your attention with the possible exception of the original Matrix (The Wachowski’s have both said Akira was an inspiration to them making The Matrix). It sets out to be the best head trip possible while still hefting a fairly heavy action hammer. Of course, it doesn’t seem like that when the film first starts. The world itself that Kaneda and Tetsuo comes from is all spit and attitude. Kaneda sits atop his Honda bike while draped in the red leather armour of his biker forebearers, snarling at society and daring it to bark back. He and Tetsuo are the forgotten children of the post-atomic age, and they don’t want the world that the adults say they should have to carry. It’s the adults’ world, so it’s their problem. But like every group of outcasts, the world in which they live is the world on which they must depend. When it gets threatened, even the most standoffish of punks will consider their options.

After some necessary exposition in the beginning and hints of a bigger mystery, director Katsuhiro Otomo builds on his original manga and starts digging out the plot. He changes his lead character from an anti-social punk into a warrior soldier for the people, one that will save them from the hellfire of oblivion that walks in the wake of his out-of-control and powerful best friend. Otomo fuses the mad science of Frankenstein with the Japanese pathological fear of nuclear fire. Tetsuo, awakened to his powers, becomes an analogue to the bombing of Japan in WWII. While cursed with this power, its awesome energy is slowly driving him insane. And when he thinks that the remains of the previous test subject who achieved Godhood (the titular Akira) are being kept from him, he goes on a rampage. In his mind, not realising that Akira became non-corporeal before he left his remains behind, the military are stopping him from being complete. While trying to free his friend from the military’s experiments, Tetsuo crosses a line and kills some of the old gang. Kaneda realises Tetsuo isn’t sick, that he’s gone mad, and teams up with the General (who despite being part of the experiment that created Tetsuo doesn’t want another Akira to happen) to try and stop his old friend. There’s a tragic element to that, knowing that the next time you see your friend, you’re going to have to kill him. Again, I can’t help but feel the parallel of war here, mirroring the insanity of killing your fellow brother or sister because opposing forces will it so.

Another great aspect of the film is that there’s no concrete notion as to what happened to Akira, the previous subject, despite there being multiple explanations (some of which are fairly accurate). While the other children became espers, their powers remained localized. None of them came close to Akira’s level, and we are left with scant information as to what he became. Did he move to a higher plane of existence? Did he move into another dimension? Was he, for all intents and purposes, a God? We’re not told about that, but we are told that he regards his old friends with affection and aids them in their quest to save the world from Tetsuo’s rampage. While the last vestiges of humanity are still there, they are enough to make Akira intervene while Tetsuo still craves human frailties like power and respect. These questions push the audience to consider what exactly is the nature of the thing we call reality? Is it just the daily struggle to survive and carry on the rat race of life, or can we really evolve to see the universe with new, less petty eyes? If reality is just what we see, hear, touch and feel, then what is the place where Akira resides and where Tetsuo wants to be actually made of? “I think, therefore I am” presupposes that reality is only there because you can fathom it. Holding to that truth, is there any difference to our version of reality and Akira’s reality?

The animation on display builds a world unlike any before it: the metropolis of Neo-Tokyo in all its wonder and horror. From the glass towers to the streets overrun with biker gangs below, the city is alive and pulses with its own heartbeat. It’s a science fiction fan’s earnest dream. Massive towers of concrete and glass, filled with all kinds of technological wonder, tapering down to district-sized undergrounds and mezzanines connected by hundreds of concrete veins along which cars and goods move. Everyone is connected to the network and everyone believes in the network. All around, this is the shiny and squalid future that we’re all going to get, because that’s progress dammit. So many stories have been crafted on the back of Neo-Tokyo and its fatal cycle of death and rebirth since the film’s release that it’s hard to think further back and realise that Metropolis by Fritz Lang promised the same kind of future. Is it just me or do we seem destined to dream the future as this vast, monolithic landscape of oneness and conformity? It’s almost as if we know this is the best kind of future we can craft, because nobody’s going to accept either a utopia or a complete dystopia? The citizens of the city live in this future because this is the one they inherited and are either too blind or too apathetic to change it. But Neo-Tokyo is built on a lie and possibly multiple lies. If people knew that the military were still trying to perfect the process that led to the first city’s destruction, would they be so complacent? The revolutionary group that freed Takashi and is trying to stop the military know but they don’t want to tell people. That makes them as complicit as the people they oppose by reason of not wanting to cause a panic. If that was their game, then by freeing the esper from his captivity, they triggered the very thing they were trying to prevent. Otomo shines in the script showing that the only people who are not doomed by their fate are the espers who can stand outside the fight between man and superman and see the bigger picture. They seem like they’re prisoners, but that is not the truth — just a version of the truth. When they connect with Tetsuo, they can see the maelstrom at his centre; they know this can only end one way.

For a film theory fan, another great thing to consider about Akira is the timelessness of the story and its characters. Harking back to part of Campbell’s hero of a thousand faces theory, a young boy craves acceptance from his peers and society. In a horrible moment, he is used by a group of power mad sorcerers to tap into an unlimited power. He cannot control the power and begins to lose all grip on reality. After much sacrifice on the side of the people of the land, one person stands up to defeat the boy. Our hero, a former friend of the boy, acquires ancient knowledge from a group of wizards and goes to storm the antagonists lair with this knowledge. At the same time, behind the scenes, the wizards band together and call onto a higher power to intercede. By levelling the playing field, the hero and the antagonist square off in combat and while the hero stands his ground, the day is won by the manifestation of the power calling the boy back and calming the waters around the land. The day is saved, and the sorcerers are destroyed in the process, leaving the evil in the ground until it can be safely used for good.

And you thought it was just a good sci-fi movie, huh?

The dubs from Akira over the years have extended its longevity. Older fans (for the most part) like the Streamline dub, and younger fans like the Animaze dub that Geneon used in their releases in North America and that Funimation and Manga UK currently use. (For the record, the Funimation disc has both dubs and the original Japanese to choose from.) I love Mitsuo Iwata as Kaneda and Nozomu Sasaki as Tetsuo as they shout, roar, scream and smirk their way through the destruction of Neo-Tokyo. To this day, I just have to mock shout “KANEDA!!!” and my older brother will retort with “TETSUO!!!” This film is that engrained in our shared pop culture experience. The English dubs have their pluses and minuses, but both have lent toward the spread of the film on mainstream TV over the years, helping to push the film beyond the realm of anime fans’ consciousnesses alone. The fact that hollywood has been trying to make a live action Akira for over 13 consecutive years is met with both admiration and derision by fans. No other project, other than the long awaited Ghost in the Shell live action film, has tested American studios in their quest in its adaption for English speaking markets. They can’t get it wrong, because the only core audience that they can bank on right now are the fans of the original. But the same fans claim that no studio can hope to get it right, so the original still retains its luster for a little while longer. I should also mention that you can complement your Akira experience with the English language versions of Otomo’s original manga, which can be found in all good retailers.

Akira is a title that rises above the banner of “Anime you need to see before you die.” It’s a title that needs to be seen before you die if you’re a fan of films. Period. The crowning achievement of Otomo’s career, Akira sets the standard by which all other claimants to the throne must pass. Every English-speaking anime company forever chases “the next Akira,” much like Kaneda on his bike chasing his enemies. Unlike Kaneda, however, anime companies will continue the chase not knowing that there is only one Akira and there will only ever be one.

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Going to Otakon 2015? So Are We!

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If you're going to Otakon this weekend, keep an eye out for Ink and me as we scurry around the massive Baltimore convention trying to balance the giant schedule of excellent panels with our own events and a series of guest interviews. This year, Ink and I have five panels between the two of us:

  • Beyond Miyazaki: The Directors of Studio Ghibli (Friday, 10:15–11:15am in Panel 2): My panel reminding fans that there are directors OTHER than Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli, and they've made some pretty cool movies.
  • Poetry in Anime: The Power of Words in a Visual Medium (Friday, 7–8pm in Panel 3): Ink's poetry panel, full of in-depth analysis and historical context for a number of instances of poetry in anime.
  • Otakon is Alive with the Sound of Anime (Saturday, 2:15–3:15pm in AMV Theater): Ink is the co-panelist for this music-in-anime-themed panel from All Geeks Considered's Vinnie Averello.
  • The Rise of CG Anime (Sunday, 9–10am in Panel 4): My detailed history of computer graphics in anime, both in 2-D and 3-D, breaking down techniques and technologies along the way.
  • Crunchyroll: Working in the Anime Industry (Sunday, 1–2pm in Panel 5): I'm one of the panelists on this Crunchyroll roundtable featuring various employees from the company discussing our experiences in the industry.

We also have two confirmed interviews (and who knows, maybe more on the way): director Seiji Kishi (Yuki Yuna is a Hero, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Assassination Classroom, Persona 4) and prolific director/storyboard artist Shinji Takamatsu (School Rumble, Daily Lives of High School Boys, Gintama, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, Gundam X Brave Police J-Decker). Feel free to comment with any questions you have for them (or any other guests) and we'll try to get them answered.

And if you're at Otakon and you see us at an event or wandering around the hallways, don't be afraid to come up and say hi, though we may have to rush off afterward. To see what stuff we're probably rushing to, check out our tentative schedules below and follow Ink and me on Twitter.

Evan

FRIDAY

  • Awesome Animation Not From Japan
  • Beyond Miyazaki: The Directors of Studio Ghibli
  • Aoki/Kurosaki/Nagano Autographs
  • MAPPA w/ Maruyama
  • I Love the 90s: Anime Edition
  • Fast Times at Anime High: School in Anime
  • Dark Horse Comics Industry Panel
  • Shinji Takamatsu Q&A
  • Anime Directors You Should Know
  • The Worst Anime of All Time
  • Skin Deep: A Historical Look at Diversity in Anime & Beyond
  • BWAAH! MAXIMUM MANLY MEGA-MANGA: Seinen Explosion!
  • Disappearing Women: Tracing Womens Roles from Yaoi to Reverse Harem and Beyond

SATURDAY

  • Anime That Time Forgot
  • Seiji Kishi Q&A
  • When Gundam Goes Bad
  • Aldnoah.Zero Guest Panel
  • Geek Parenting: Raising the Next Generation of Fans
  • Anime's Appearances in US Media
  • Shirobako and the Real Anime Industry
  • I Hate Sports: A Sports Anime Panel
  • Kill la Kill and Feminism
  • Violent Japanimation from Japan: The Best Hyperviolent Cartoons You Should Be Watching

SUNDAY

  • The Rise of CG Anime
  • Aniplex Aldnoah.Zero Autographs
  • Great Ugly Manga
  • Kamikakushi: Taken by the Gods
  • Bootleg Anime from South Korea
  • Working in the Anime Industry

Ink

THURSDAY

  • 5:00 to 6:30 pm – Project BECK (Matsuri)

FRIDAY

  • 9:00 to 10:00 am – Angels in Anime – Panel 7
  • The Nose Goes!!!: A FKMT Panel – Panel 1
  • 10:00 to 11:00 am – Takamatsu Autograph – Autograph 1
  • 10:30 to 11:30 am – Aoki/Kurosaki/Nagano Autograph – Autograph 2
  • 11:30 am to 12:30 pm – MAPPA w/Maruyama – Panel 3
  • 12:45 to 1:45 pm – Kuro Fashion: African-American Influence in Animation & Japan [F] – Panel 2
  • 2:00 to 3:00 pm – Fast Times at Anime High: School in Anime [F+] – Panel 1
  • 3:15 to 4:15 pm – Crunchyroll Industry Panel – Panel 5
  • 4:30 to 5:30 pm – No Side: A History of Japanese Punk and Hardcore – Panel 3
  • Shinji Takamatsu Q&A – Panel 6
  • Garo: The Animation Official Panel – Panel 2
  • 7:00 to 8:00 pm – Poetry in Anime: The Power of Words in a Visual Medium [F] – Panel 3

Saturday

  • 9:00 to 10:00 am – When Subtitles Go Wrong [F] – Panel 1
  • 10:15 to 11:45 am – Project Beck Performance and Q&A – Live Programming
  • 11:30 am to 12:30 pm – Seiji Kishi Q&A – Panel 6
  • 2:15 to 3:15 pm – Otakon is Alive with the Sounds of Anime – AMV Theater
  • 3:15 to 4:15 pm – The Japanese Fairy Tales: A Dramatic Reading of the Farmer and the Tongue-Cut Bird – Panel 6
  • 4:30 to 5:30 pm – Anime's Appearances in US Media – Panel 5
  • Gender and Manga Representations of Sexuality: Focusing on Female Readers in Japan – Panel 1
  • 7:00 to 8:00 pm – From Anime to Live Action: You Can (Not) Adapt – Panel 3
  • 8:15 to 9:15 pm – The Wanderer's History: The History Behind Rurouni Kenshin – Panel 4
  • 11:45 pm to 12:45 am – Violent Japanimations From Japan: The Best Hyperviolent Cartoons You Should Be Watching

Sunday

  • 10:15 to 11:15 am – Art of Animation Featuring Garo – Panel 6
  • Great Ugly Manga Panel 3
  • 10:45 to 11:45 am – Kamikakushi: Taken by the Gods – Panel 7
  • 11:30 am to 12:30 pm – Bootleg Anime from South Korea – Panel 6
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AnimeNEXT 2015: The Panels

Obscure anime, cultural education, and animators galore!

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As we discussed in our three-way con report, AnimeNEXT has really been stepping up their panel game lately. In this post, Ink, David, and Evan run through their favorite (and LEAST favorite) panels from fans and guests alike at the New Jersey anime convention.

Symbolic Shorthand: an Introduction to the Importance of Folktales

This panel centered around allusions to folktales sporadically appearing in anime and the morals said references were intended to bring to the minds of a Japanese audience when thusly invoked. It would’ve been easy to roll Folktales from Japan for an hour, but the presenter focused instead on more tongue-in-cheek fare. She summarized the tales themselves to relay the necessary basics and then pointed out, as organized by theme, each anime example’s visual and narrative aspects that hinted at children’s tales of old. This was a double-edged sword of sorts however. Some of the orated tales may have been described or retold in a bit too much detail and consequently felt drawn out (if you’ll pardon the pun). The first half of the presentation was still impressive, however, which made the last quarter or so seem to lack some steam. With some thirty minutes to go and no more extended examples, the panelist turned to general imagery. She continued to explain the cultural relevance of specific items, but for some reason it felt tacked on and lacking in nuance or depth. (To be fair, the presenter said she was notified about doing this panel at the last minute.) I’d recommend seeing this panel if it comes to a con near you, because it does a good job of revealing some of the underpinnings of simple gags and images prevalent in the stories which we swallow without wholly understanding due to not having been raised on the basic cultural building blocks that are Japanese folktales. –Ink

Penguindrum: A Panel for Lowlifes Who Will Never Amount to Anything

Kunihiko Ikuhara specializes in anime that eyes can dig into and minds can masticate, and Reverse Thieves Alain and Kate offered up slide after slide of the fruits of their sleuthing efforts in order to help the audience grasp some of that which might not have been so evident in a first or even second watch of Mawaru Penguindrum. Via visual- and nomenclature-based clues, the Thieves tracked down specific books, places, and people. As if flipping over these bottom-side-up puzzle pieces wasn’t enough, the infamous duo started aligning edges and forming a framework for fostering understanding concerning the context of such an enigmatic show. The presentation was, by the gumshoes’ own admission, about half of all the evidence they had to report. The approximate 50/50 split between buried references and thematic exploration was not frustrating, however, and seemed well balanced (especially for an Ikuhara analysis). Of course, knowing that there’s twice  as much content waiting for yearning ears only makes me want to hear the rest. If it pops up at a con near you, do not hesitate to attend — regardless of whether you’ve seen it or not — and make sure to bring an apple for the teachers. –Ink

Giant Robots, Short Stories

One of the delights of anime con fan panels is the sometimes super-niche panel subjects. Tom Aznable (@TomAznable) went two levels deep with “Giant Robots, Short Stories,” a panel about short mecha anime. I walked in partway through, but caught a number of cool clips from projects both bizarre and familiar. The panel was segmented based on categories (OVAs, commercials, video games), and included gems like Robot Carnival (soon to be released by Discotek Media), Gridman (part of Studio Khara’s Animator’s Expo), “A Farewell to Weapons” from Short Peace, the game Quo Vadis 2 (featuring work from Macross’s Ichiro Itano and Haruhiko Mikomoto), the superb short "Powered Armor vs. Micro Berserker," pachinko animations (of course), and the highlight, a series of glorious otaku-targeted ads from Ryuukyuu Bank featuring giant robots and magical girls. Throughout, Tom provided interesting notes on shared staff that tie each project to major touchstones in anime history. Buried in all of this was a video that’s fascinating for a different reason: Project HAL is a student project from three Japanese art universities in which three teams of students animate a CG robot fight sequence based on the same provided storyboards and designs. The variations between the two serve as an effective way of isolating the effects of animator’s decisions and make the videos good educational tools for animation literacy. Only two schools completed their videos so far; the Tokyo one is embedded above, and the Osaka one is here.  –Evan

Urbanime: American Urban Culture and Anime

Even though the concept behind this panel was nothing but postulation, I actually held out hope for a good discussion because of the guidebook description. This was due to the fact that my suburban caucasian self once lived in a cramped apartment with three African-American kids from various inner cities (Newark, Camden, Jersey City) at Kean U. I came back from class one day to find them watching some loud and obnoxious cartoon. “What the hell is that,” I asked half-choked with shock and laughter. “Yo, dude, this is Pokemon! You ain’t seen it?” From that point on, I had at least a couple discussions with my anime-addicted roommates about the lack of racial representation on network TV and how they felt watching whitewashed programming. Those discussions were intimately more telling than the nigh-racist garbage flung about by the presenter of this panel, which he admitted to be “...something [he] completely pulled out of [his] backside.” Filled with offensive generalities, loose associations, and baseless claims, the panel, at least by the time I had to leave to get ready for my own panel, seemed more of an excuse to excuse his own love of harem and ecchi anime than any sort of poignant, research-based examination/discussion. How the half-filled room didn’t laugh in his face or leave in disgust is beyond me. Although maybe, like me, they were either deluding themselves into thinking it was performance art or similarly enjoy NASCAR just to wait for the moron running in circles to get dizzy enough to wreck himself. A room this big should’ve gone to a greater panel. I’d release the audio recording I took, but I’m not that cruel. (Just click on that pic and read for yourself a small taste of what I mean.) Instead, I’ll urge this panelist to do his homework before wasting more time and space or stealing precious laughter meant for intentional humor. –Ink

Poetry in Anime: The Power of Words in a Visual Medium

This was my first time seeing The Panel Ink Was Born to Do, and it was worth the wait. Though he got a little emotional at times, which made the delivery a little shaky, he filled the presentation with a balance of research and personal warmth that helped connect particular poetic references in anime to their historical and literary background. The part I saw of the panel included anime series like Kino’s Journey, Flowers of Evil, Shakugan no Shana, Free!, Shirobako, and Space Brothers, and tackled poems from various styles and countries. Like the best literary analyses, this panel made me rethink seemingly throwaway scenes and lines in my favorite anime, providing a view into a different medium and a number of different cultures. –Evan

Urashiman

A confusing panel title (it looked at first glance like a video screening) almost resulted in me missing this panel, but I’m glad I made it. Translator and convention guest Neil Nadelman chatted with a shamefully small audience of five brave souls about Future Police Urashiman, a time-traveling sci-fi adventure from Studio Tatsunoko whose popularity was overshadowed a year after it aired when Macross came out. Bolstered by choice clips from the series, Neil laid out the unique comedic tone and fun characterization that made him fall in love with Urashiman, and provided details on how to track it down in English. This is luckily pretty easy now, since Sentai Filmworks has licensed the series and has put the first half on Hulu. More is on the way in DVD form, with translations from Nadelman himself. I knew next to nothing about Urashiman before the panel, and walked away excited to check it out, so mission accomplished! –Evan

Even More Awesome Animation Not from Japan

Need a break from the anime you came to celebrate but still want to be amongst those who came to celebrate it while watching something animated? This panel, which I’ve caught bits of here and there with ne’er a duplicate clip shown, reminds attendees that animation is not stuck in any particular rut and that creators worldwide have fantastically unique ways of bringing images to life to create stories as varied as the people who tell them. (Can you say, “musical suicide shop?”) The panelist’s self-proclaimed goal is to have enough animation at the ready to accept requests by country and proffer clips without fail or hesitation. It seems the world needs to step up production to meet his demand, but the array of geographically diverse clips I’ve seen over the years via this panel and its successive semblances is astonishing in both breadth and style. It’s a clip show, and there’s very little to do but sit back, relax, and be exposed to new things that might awe, but that’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Even at bare minimum, the panelist’s charismatic intros (kept brief, I assume, for time limitations) are more than engaging enough to foster perpetual transitions until room clear. –Ink

The Heart of When They Cry

Late night laissez faire meant lols, lulls, a tea party, and warning for spoilers which didn’t end up seeming like such (at least to the uninitiated me). Citing the various incarnations of Higurashi and Umineko (audio dramas, VNs, manga, anime), panelist Katriel Page (Fox of Hearts, Study of Anime) looked at various instances within the stories to contemplate what character, tone, and context had to say about love, magic, and truth and the similarities and difference by which they were defined. Page was laid back to the point where the panel felt fluently conversational despite its obvious structure (there was, as is usual in Page’s panel slides, so much more information displayed than talked about), so pacing was truly at the whim of night’s time and temperament. This air inspired a lot of back-and-forth with the 18+ audience, which given the themes of the panel, was warmly welcomed if only slightly frustrating for those of us on speed (read: caffeine). While I’m a big Higurashi fan, I still don’t know what the big deal is about the tea party in Umineko … but now I’m raring to find out. My only regret about attending this panel was that I never got to ask the ultimate question, “Who is best girl, Mion or Shion?.” Help keep a good panelist panelling. –Ink

In the End, Robots Will Fight: The Works of Masami Obari

From beginning to end, robots fought. It was wall-to-wall fighting robots for the hour and change the panel ran through, so many robots punching other robots that to someone like myself, unable to distinguish one fighting robot from the next, it all starts to melt together into one hyperkinetic mess of thickly-shaded crunching metal and cool sword poses. Some people are into it, and I totally get it, but I don’t really get it, not to take anything away from the enthusiasm of Internet-famous Twitter personality and fake BAOH geek, @hazukari. My ears and my eyes perked up at the midpoint when co-panelist Vincenzo Avarello ran through Masami Obari’s fighting game anime adaptation phase, demonstrating the prowess of a renowned mechanical animator when confronted with the human form. That is to say, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer is definitely an interesting footnote in a long and productive career. –David

Great Anime We (Unknowingly) Actually Got

George Horvath has dedicated a good chunk of time, Internet space, and panelling effort towards exposing eyes and ears to anime titles that have never legally crossed international lines. With a positive twist, this panel praises the rare titles that managed the Pacific crossing but either landed under the radar or were simply swallowed by time. It’s easy nowadays to fill your free time with hot new shows and perpetually put off anime history. To this end within today’s simulcast society, Horvath’s panels serve a unique purpose: pop-culture museums where Hovarth is both curator and tour guide leading visitors around with an enthusiasm that serves as advocative sermon. This particular panel feel like a great got-your-nose twist and thumbed nose (a playful gesture of insult), as if, at the end of the tour, the guide turns around and says, “So you know all these treasures sitting beyond your grasp behind red ropes? There are no red ropes!” –Ink

Women in Anime

Following up on an unimpressive women-centric panel at last year’s AnimeNEXT, the panel this year had nothing in relation with the previous one, sharing only the name. This time around, the panel centered on women in anime, as in, women working in the anime industry. Really, you could have just called it “Working in the Anime Industry”, it only so happened that all the speakers were women. Featured guests Michele Knotz, Kira Buckland, and Brittany Lauda, all coming from the voice acting field, gave a roundtable discussion of their experiences and inspirations, but perhaps the unavoidable center of attention here was the participation of animator Aya Suzuki, an international artist with a list of credits that would bowl over any animation nerd. One anecdote that stuck with me after the panel was Aya’s admission to turning down work on the Evangelion movie series, even after being personally sought for by Studio Khara. The reason being, she didn’t see herself as a proper fit for the job, so out of respect for the work as a whole, she turned down a job I’m assuming many animators would dream of taking. More so than many other animators I’ve seen come to these conventions, it’s surprising to see someone so committed to their own artistic principles when it’s so common to hear about the kind of meat grinder the Japanese animation industry has become. There might be hope for the industry yet, as unsustainable as the current path seems. –David

Sacred Symbols/Giant Robots: Symbolism and Symbolic Action in Mecha

Usually, Charles Dunbar’s (Study of Anime) panels start as an exploration of a general idea. Later, after far too many examples amass to fit in an hour slot, he splits off content into separate panels of more intricate focus — not unlike Voltron and its composite lions after taking down the big bad with the final swing of its sword. This panel, which actually grew out of a precisely honed analysis of the religious symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion (and still tackled that title), dissected other lions — Tetsujin 28, RahXephon, Big O, The Vision of Escaflowne, Shin Mazinger Shougeki, Xenosaga, Gurren Lagann and more — as well in order to reason, out loud, why consumers are drawn to giant robot shows and what specific imagery lends to that eye glue. He explored robots as stand-ins for gods and morality, types of heroes and their place in the structure of the moral tale, and so much more. It was a 101 rather than a seminar, a frat party in lieu of cigars and bourbon, and I think that may just be the invitation needed to garner more serious viewers for the oft brushed aside subgenre. –Ink

Yokai Girls Gone Wild

...or as I like to call it, Japan’s Fear of Women Projected via Folktales. Japan has a virtual pokedex maxed out with creatures conjured by minds which cowered in dim spark of consciousness otherwise surrounded by the dark of the unknown. By expressly exploring female monstrosities in this particular installment of his series of yokai panels, Charles Dunbar exposes more than the ludicrous, the curious, and the macabre in Japanese lore: he pulls back a very thin veil and calls the trend for what it is. Like any good essay, the point is simple and backed up with multiple exemplifying instances. So while Dunbar only made a comedic aside about the underlying theme of the showcased monsters, the rolling out of wave after wave of examples, explained in great detail and with passion from Dunbar’s own encyclopedic noggin’, drove the point home as subtly as something so overwhelming can possibly be — all with his trademarked blend of charisma, intelligence, and humor. –Ink

Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop, and [REDACTED] with TRIGGER

Trigger returned and packed the house again, with Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama bringing in animators Sushio and Takafumi Hori along for the second outing after the overwhelmingly positive reception last year. This time around, the guests gave a showcase of recent short animations they’ve done for the Animator Expo series, some of which may still be seen online on the project’s website. The biggest response to the panel, possibly even bigger than the super-secret [REDACTED] video at the end, could either go to SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED or Obake-chan, both of which tie very closely with Trigger’s origins at Gainax. Obake-chan outright takes its cues for its best gags from Evangelion and MACHSPEED is the next best thing our undeserving world will get to Panty & Stocking 2. This was easily the biggest event of the con, so why, why would the panel be placed to run concurrent with the chiptune concert next door? Everyone was clinging that much more desperately to every word spoken by the guests with the droning bass bleeding out from the walls. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Trigger come back to New Jersey, even if this was more of a chance for them to hang out and bask in the adoration of their fanbase rather than to reveal anything truly mindblowing. I was disappointed not to hear anything about Ninja Slayer aside from a flurry of YEARRTs from the audience at the mention of the title, but perhaps the world isn’t ready for Trigger to break it down for us yet. Maybe the real tragedy here is Tattun’s inability to get a reaction for Inou Battle, but no one can say that’s surprising. This was a panel where you just had to be there to really feel the energy in the room, but you could get an approximate experience from home by watching Inferno Cop inside of a buzzing fridge. –David

Elisa Concert

Live music is an important thing. It’s electric. Specifically, it’s human. Combine ~60% water and the electricity which is emotion and thought, and the resulting dispersion, upon reacting with other conductors (the audience), is amplified exponentially. The name Elisa never struck a chord (if you’ll pardon the pun) until I realized she sang the song backing the OP for Season 3 of The World God Only Knows. I remembered it as far more a complex tune than what it really was and therefore was looking forward to this concert way more than I should have been given what was presented. Now I know bringing along accompaniment is not within the budget for mid-sized cons, but making vocalists sing along with recorded tracks just dampens the live experience to me. It’s glorified karaoke, and the acoustics in Main Events didn’t do the singer’s talent any favors. Still, there was a room full of eager ears awaiting the vocals of this siren, and I’m glad she could have that. Almost with obligation, I stayed until the song I wanted to hear was over and then left certainly no worse for my time but not particularly moved either. –Ink

Lost Anime

A piece of production art from The Gourd SparrowLost Anime was the only Mike Toole panel I caught in its entirety, and boy was it worth it. The subject this time, as usual, was a pretty specific niche topic: anime whose footage is or was once lost, unable to be watched or studied. Mike meandered through the decades of Japanese animation history, touching on interesting tidbits and titles as he went. The interesting part is how many titles are actually big deals; Tezuka’s Big X, Toei and Isao Takahata’s Ken the Wolf Boy, the first 23 episodes of Doraemon, and the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood movie were interspersed with obscure projects like Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero, Robotan, Spaceman PiPi, and an early Toho film called The Gourd Sparrow. He even included some very recent projects, like Gothic Made, a film from Mamoru Nagano (Five Star Stories) that screened in Japan then disappeared with no home video or digital release. To his credit, Mike managed to make a panel about "anime that you can’t actually watch" visually interesting by including whatever snippets he could find for each, whether it was a trailer, a segment of the original anime, or even production artwork or advertising. –Evan

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